It’s 11.34pm on a Monday night. One night owl Filskit Lady was getting ready to send our latest blog offering off to A Younger Theatre, when she came across a discussion on our Twitter feed about this piece by Susan Elkin – Stop marginalising young audience work. As a company which works with young audiences and feels passionate about creating high quality theatre for children and young people, we just had to respond.
Now, we have admitted many times that Filskit Theatre did not initially set out to create work for children; we were all prepared to live out our theatre days performing five-hour durational pieces to drunk people in various tunnels underneath the train stations of central London. But the more people we invited to see our work, the more we were told “this would be great for little ones” and “kids would love it”. So we decided to give it a go. We created our first piece, a re-telling of Snow White with the help of the EMERGE Project at the Unicorn (because who better to tell you whether or not your work is suitable for kids, right?). The funny thing about this process was that we actually changed very little in the way that we made a piece for children compared with the way that we made work for adults.
We met a fellow theatre maker just the other day, who, instead of saying that he made work for children, said that he made work without the word “fuck” in it. That’s one way of putting it.
The biggest learning curve for us in our transition into a children’s theatre company was the realisation that children and young people don’t want to be patronised. They can grasp much more complex ideas than they are perhaps given credit for by other forms of “children’s entertainment” and can appreciate the magic of the theatre in a way that few adults can.
We have said this before and we’ll say it again: some of the most creative and engaging work we have seen over the past five years has been for children. It’s not all C Beebies and old men on unicycles talking about road safety (yes, we have seen that too). There are entire festivals dedicated to showcasing the best theatre for children and young people from the UK and abroad, for example Imaginate and Take Off, and there are so many companies out there that are creating truly fantastic work for young audiences.
Next week we are taking our show The Feather Catchermto a symposium event at Rose Bruford College, we are also running a workshop for the MA Theatre for Young Audiences students. It’s fantastic to see that there are courses specifically designed to train theatre makers in this area – we can’t wait to get involved.
So why does work for young audiences still not get the recognition it deserves?
In her piece for The Stage, Susan Elkin focuses specifically on the lack of coverage that theatre for young audiences gets in the press. But it’s not just the papers and their reviewers that marginalise this type of work. Indeed when we first told our peers and fellow graduates that we were making work for children we were met with some quizzical looks. We were even asked by one peer “but don’t you ever want to make proper theatre?”. This mentality, that work for young audiences is somehow lesser than other art, is shockingly common.
So, what can we as artists do to change this perception? To be perfectly honest, we don’t know. Perhaps there needs to be some kind of website or publication specifically for young audiences work? Perhaps there already is?
As a start, we put a call out to all artists and companies who currently make work for young people or who are perhaps aspiring performers who want to work with children. We invite you to challenge yourselves to keep on making exceptional theatre… sooner or later everyone else (press included) will want to join the party, we hope.